NIS Update – AWE has sacrificed its core work for new-build in a flawed business model

NIS UPDATE 14th May 2008

AWE has sacrificed its core work for new-build in a flawed business model

Nuclear Disarmament By The Back Door?

It is tempting to welcome the stopping of live nuclear work at AWE as a route towards disarmament. The MoD can't keep AWE contractors in line to carry out key procedures to maintain nuclear warheads and appears to be losing its nuclear grip. Warhead maintenance is no easy task, and without safe facilities in which to do it, MoD decision-makers have a serious, if predictable problem. How did they get into this mess? Confused priorities, dither and blather come to mind. The knock-on effect is to risk relaxing safety limits in order to check the reliability of warheads stored in Scotland and on the three in-service Trident submarines. It is not an option to insist on keeping Trident in service at any cost, because safety compromises are not a price that the MoD and the rest of us can afford to pay.

MoD Stops Live Nuclear At AWE

A correction is necessary to last month's NIS report that the NII had stopped live nuclear work at Burghfield. It was in fact the MoD who advised AWE to stop work, having at last agreed with the NII that it was neccesary to stop. Currently, the NII are prepared to licence each operation at Burghfield on application, although it is not yet clear if permission has been requested this week. AWE confirmed that no live work was being undertaken up to the end of April and said that it would not continue until remedial work was complete. How much remedial work is not specified, but some details are expected to be listed in the NII Quarterly Report for January – March to be published in July.

"Miss Whybrow said AWE had told the NII that no live nuclear work would continue until the remedial work was complete." Newbury Weekly News 1st May 2008

What was in the Nuclear Convoy out from AWE Burghfield for two weeks?

A 3-carrier Truck Cargo Heavy Duty (TCHD) convoy left AWE Bughgfield on Sunday 27th April and was tracked by Nukewatch to RAF Dishforth in North Yorkshire where it appeared to stay the night. The next sighting was on Saturday 10th May on the M6 in Cumbria on the return to Burghfield. The TCHDs warhead carriers are to be replaced in 2010 and are also due to serve to transport military-related Special Nuclear Materials (SNM), replacing the old SNM Seden Atkinson vehicles. However, in April, a TCHD convoy seen on the M5 was thought to be transporting new nuclear fuel rods fromRolls Royce Marine Power Operations Ltd (RRMPOL) in Derby to Devonport for a Trident submarine refit. Together with the fact that the old SNM vehicles have not been seen for some time, it suggests the use of TCHDs for SNM may have been brought forward to 2008. Thus the two-week convoy may not have been on warhead business at all. In a recent Parliamentary Answer, Minister Ainsworth carefully avoids mentioning SNM load carriers.

Radioactive Materials: Transport

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence with reference to the answer of 7 November 2005, /Official Report/, column 103W, on special nuclear materials load carriers, what the timetable for the introduction of the new load carrier vehicles is; how many there will be; what the cost of each one is; whether they will be operated by the Ministry of Defence Police; how many miles each one is expected to complete before entry into service; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The current load carrier vehicles are now planned to continue in service until the end of 2010. It is planned to replace them with eight refurbished truck cargo heavy duty trailers and nine newly purchased tractor heads. I am withholding information on the cost of each vehicle as disclosure of this information would prejudice commercial interests. The role of the Ministry of defence Police during the transport of nuclear materials is to ensure the overall security of any movements of special nuclear materials. The vehicles will be extensively tested for reliability before entry into service, including a programme of verification and validation activities against taut acceptance criteria. The mileage completed will be that necessary to successfully complete this programme.

Hansard Report 30 Apr 2008 : Column 484W

If no warheads were brought back from Scoltand in this recent convoy, no permission to do warhead work at Burghfield is needed and the stop on live work can remain.

AWE Priorities

New build at AWE continues apace with State-of-the-art-building projects at Aldermaston. When all are functioning, AWE will have the capacity to research, design and test new warhead components on site. Exciting new profit-driven projects are clearly prioritized over dull remedial work or the urgent replacement of warhead dis/assembly 'gravel gerties' at Burghfield.

While top building contractors re-vamp Aldermaston, AWE is failing in its task to manage the site in a rational manner. If your ancient kitchen extension is falling down, it doesn't help to get a new bathroom! Seriously, the necessity to service warheads or decommission those coming out of service remains a pressing task that is on hold at the moment. AWE has sacrificed its core work for new-build in a flawed business model that lacks understanding or is guilty of dereliction of duty.

The MoD bears the final responsibility; if anything goes wrong, the public won't be interested in who loses their job as a result but whether the milk is safe to drink or if the dog comes in with plutonium on its paws. And those would be the lucky ones. An accident at the assembly plant, where sensitive high explosives and fissile material are combined would be a nuclear calamity. Safety should have been AWE's priority for the past five years, rather than impressing the local and scientific community.

AWE Verification Project

An AWE presentation on Verification of Nuclear Disassembly to the NPT Prep-Com in Geneva last week reported on a programme of work devising methods of authentication to prove that a warhead is what it is said to be. R & D is continuing to develop methods of warhead inspection that enables parts not agreed for surveillance to be kept secret.

It is hoped that such technical means will be available to verify political agreements and monitor stored components to ensure they do not get recycled into warheads once they have been internationally verified as disassembled parts.

A proposed Technical Verification Conference for the Five Permanent UN Security Council member States is welcome. Disarmament and Verification could seem a direction in which the MoD could steer AWE, given its awesome problems at Burghfield.

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